I’m not going to say ‘I told you so’, but I will point out that I detailed out a Mann Vs. Machine update coming about a month ago. We’ve seen clues in-game, in promo videos and even deep in updated files. In the last twenty four hours the next chapter of the Mann Vs. Machine Alternate Reality Game has unfolded, and what a ride it’s been. Secret codes, finally a use for the capacitors, and many, many high fives.
SATURDAY AUGUST 11TH, 2012 UPDATE
A small update came early Saturday, and most users just accepted that it was a tweak to the new Kong King map introduced in the previous day’s update. But some didn’t settle—not when there is science to do. A subset of TF2 players, myself proudly included, rarely accept what Valve gives us at face value. It was quickly figured out that there was more to this little update than a quick map fix. Some new information was added to the item schema, the code that defines pretty much everything in TF2, in the form of hashes for each of the nine classes. Computer science! Even more exciting, the Barely Melted Capacitors that had been sitting unused in players’ backpacks since the Pyromania ARG were now equipable by all classes in the miscellaneous slots. A few custom web pages and some great threads on Reddit and Google Docs served as grand central for communication for the players actively participating in the ARG.
^5S AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
Equipping the capacitors at first didn’t seem to do anything. TF2 went on as normal, but not for long. A player donning a capacitor happened to give a high five in-game and a message was generated. The message was in the form of a joke from the class of the high five recipient. Once this news hit the ARG players, they rallied on servers to narrow down what this was. It turned out that each player in TF2 when slapping hands with three of the nine classes would generate a joke. The three classes were different per player and the jokes were the same each time they were generated by the same class. The codes were collected in a public spreadsheet and there was even a submission form created for easy contribution. Hours went by and players gave high fives until their palms were raw. Each class’ jokes, when parsed out, slowly started to take the shape of different kinds of files. Five of the nine were image files containing QR codes that output Adult, Baboon, Goldfish, Goggles and Councilman. The Demoman’s code was a Zipped up text file that contained ASCII art of Apollo, and Sniper’s was a MIDI file of Morse Code for unicorn. Like a true engineer, the Engi code was over-complicated C++ code—including inside jokes about Valve not being able to count to three—outputting the word resistor.
THE SPY’S CODE
Then there was the Spy’s code, which gave us a raw text URL. The URL pointed to a Zip file on TF2.com that contained a Keepass database—this was obvious by the .kdbx file extension. The database prompted for a password that went unknown for all of about fifteen minutes. By the time the players had their hands on the Keepass file, the other codes were pretty much figured out. It was clear to some—string together the numeric byte values of the other eight outputs for the password. Once unlocked there was a single entry titled HAXOR. There is a password of ‘E pluribus unum’ that doesn’t seem to mean anything and an attachment of spy.png that held another QR code. A little more computer science later, spy.png XOR-ed with the other QR codes output a link to this:
ONE CRAFT TO RULE THEM ALL
This recipe for Revenge Alamo’d is obviously a TF2 crafting recipe. It was approximately 3am Pacific/6am Eastern when the first ARG player crafted the items listed. The craft didn’t actually produce anything (my sources tell me it didn’t consume the ingredients either) instead it triggered a system-wide alert stating quite firmly not to go to http://www.teamfortress.com/bloodbrothers/. Go ahead, click it—who listens to in-game messages anyways? The link takes players to a new TF2 comic ending this round of the ARG and introducing the third Mann brother’s plan to take over Mann Co.
Ladies and gentleman meet Gray Mann, the leader of the machines in Mann vs. Machine.